The last time the Kentucky Wildcats took on the Florida Gators in basketball, the game ended on a controversial no-call that did not go in favor of the Cats. The Gators picked up the 66-64 win and the Big Blue Nation went home from Rupp Arena unhappy. Florida was led by their sixth man, Jalen Hudson who had 17 points and 5 rebounds in the victory. Hudson is the leading scorer for the Gators, despite not starting, at 15.4 points per game, while shooting 40.8% from three on the year.
Since the first match up, Kentucky has seen the full roller coaster of a season. From the high of the comeback win over West Virginia, to the low of the four game losing streak, the full spectrum of a Coach Cal team was experienced by Kentucky fans. For Florida, the month and a half since the game in Lexington has seen the struggles of a 5-6 record in 11 games.
This afternoon’s game has a bit more on the line than the previous match up. A win today will give Kentucky the 3 seed in the SEC Tournament and a guaranteed double-bye. However, a loss puts the fate of the Wildcats in the hands of the Missouri Tigers. If the Cats lose, they drop to the 4 seed, needing a Missouri win over Arkansas to keep from moving to the 5 seed and only getting a single bye. Let’s take a look at the potential starting lineup for the Gators today.
#4 Egor Koulechov, Senior Guard, 6’5″
Egor Koulechov utilized the graduate transfer rule to transfer from Rice to Florida for one final season of eligibility. One of the best scorers in the conference last year at 18.2 points per game, he was named to the 2017 First-Team All-Conference USA. He’s one of three guards in the starting lineup for the Gators. He finished with 2 points and 9 rebounds on an off shooting night of 0 for 8 from the field.
The Volgograd, Russia native has been a fantastic addition for Coach White, and is the most valuable player thus far for Florida. He’s scoring 13.7 points per game and pulling down a team high 6.6 rebounds per game. He’s continued his hot shooting from his time at Rice, shooting 40.3% from three this season, as well as 88.6% from the free throw line.
In Florida’s three-guard starting lineup, Koulechov actually most closely resembles the small forward position, pitting him in a match up with Kevin Knox. Knox’s struggles on the defensive end are evident, and he did a nice job last match up. Koulechov brings the experience that Knox lacks, but Knox will have a large size advantage of 4 inches that should be utilized to get the ball near the lane and shoot over the smaller defender. Knox’s scoring has come a long way since that first game as well.
#11 Chris Chiozza, Senior Guard, 6’0″
Chris Chiozza is probably most famous for hitting the running, buzzer beating three to knock off Wisconsin in last season’s NCAA Tournament to send the Gators to the Elite 8. On top of that, he was the leader in the SEC with the best assist to turnover ratio last year. Despite not starting a single game last season, Chiozza has started a total of 26 games over his career entering this season.
The senior from Memphis, Tennessee is the quarterback of the offense for Florida, with experience as the primary ball handler. He’s leading the team and the Southeastern Conference in assists per game at 6.1. He’s scoring 11.1 points and pulling down 4.6 boards as well. A solid all-around player, Chiozza leads the team on the defensive end with 1.9 steals per game, while shooting 36.5% from three and 78.8% from the charity stripe.
Starting at the point, Chiozza will match up with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in another tough match up for Kentucky’s starting guard. With the way Quade Green and Shai have been playing together, their defensive efforts against Chiozza will be big today in his senior day. Chiozza had 13 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds in the first match up.
#5 KeVaughn Allen, Junior Guard, 6’2″
KeVaughn Allen returns for Mike White this season and is now a three-year starter in this Florida program. He’s been a solid contributor in all three seasons for the Gators, starting in his freshman year when he was the fourth highest scoring freshman in Florida basketball history. He had 11 points and 2 assists in the game in January.
Allen is an explosive athlete who can fill it up, as evidenced by his 28 points with 6 made threes in Florida’s win over Arkansas earlier this season. Currently, he’s scoring 11.3 points, grabbing 2.2 boards, and dishing out 2.1 assists per game. His three point percentage has actually dropped from last season, but he’s still shooting 33.3% from deep and hitting 92.3% of his free throws.
At the shooting guard position, Allen draws a match up with Hamidou Diallo. For Cats fans, Diallo’s struggle seems to be coming to an end, but today is a big match up in a rowdy environment. A lot of people have hinted that Diallo playing well could be an X-factor moving forward for Kentucky, so today could be a step in the right direction.
#25 Keith Stone, Sophomore Forward, 6’8″
Keith Stone has made a big jump from his first season in Gainesville to his sophomore season this year. Down the stretch last season, Stone wasn’t playing big minutes for Mike White, but script has been flipped this year, as he’s started 26 of 30 games thus far. The Florida native was ranked as a four-star prospect coming out of high school.
The sophomore has the ability to stretch the floor, despite being one of the bigger players in the starting lineup for the Gators. He’s currently giving Florida 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks per contest. Like the first three starters, Stone can knock down shots on the perimeter, hitting 40.3% of his threes on the year.
Stone plays the stretch four position at 6’8″ and 245 pound. He’ll be defended by Kentucky’ PJ Washington for the most part tonight. The trio of Washington, Wenyen Gabriel, and Jarred Vanderbilt will be a tough task for Stone to handle tonight. The three players’ varying abilities make each one their one version of a threat.
#13 Kevarrius Hayes, Junior Forward, 6’9″
Kevarrius Hayes is another Florida native in the starting lineup for Mike White. He’s been the person to step into the starting lineup both this year and last year when John Egbunu has been down with injuries. Hayes is one of only four Gator players ever to block 60 shots in a season.
A little break for the Cats here, as Hayes isn’t an outside threat like the rest of the starting lineup. He’s the post presence for the Gators, scoring 5 points, pulling down 5.1 rebounds, and blocking a team high 2.1 shots per game, good enough for fourth in the SEC. Hayes struggles with shooting, as he’s hit just 51.5% from the free throw line this year.
At only 6’9″ and 225 pounds, Hayes is the largest starter for the Gators this season. Kentucky center Nick Richards has 2 inches and 20 pounds on the junior forward. Richards struggled against Ole Miss on Wednesday, but mostly because foul trouble took him out of his game in the first half. As long as he can rebound and play clean defense, he can be a factor today.
Go Cats. Beat Gators.